It’s no secret that chronic stress can lead to a variety of serious health problems. However, by educating yourself on how chronic stress affects the body, you can stop and even reverse the symptoms that lead to more debilitating disease processes. It all starts with two plum-sized glands called the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands are located at the top of your kidneys. They are responsible for the release of important stress hormones—cortisol and DHEA.
During normal bouts of stress, the adrenal glands produce whatever level of cortisol and DHEA the body needs to maintain itself. However, when the body endures chronic stress, the adrenal glands become overworked, which leads to adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue occurs when the adrenal glands are forced to work overtime due to long periods of stress. Over time, this can have a traumatic effect on a variety of the body’s systems, including the hormonal system, digestive system, and detoxification system.
The three most common sources of stress that contribute to adrenal fatigue include chronic pain, emotional stressors, and poor lifestyle choices. When these stressors in your life become more than the body can handle, the adrenal glands react in a predictable pattern. If the stress continues unmanaged, over time it can lead to complete adrenal burnout—a common cause of some of today’s most serious health issues.
Three Stages of Adrenal Burnout
Stage 1 — Stress Overload
No matter the source of stress, your body’s reaction is the same: your adrenal glands produce more stress hormones (cortisol and DHEA) as a way to help the body cope. After the stress dissipates, the adrenal glands recover back their normal state and prepare for the next round of stress. If the stress continues for too long, however, it can affect the body’s ability to recover and disrupt the adrenal glands’ ability to produce its hormones.
Another way to look at this is to think of your adrenal glands as a savings account. If you continually withdraw money from your account without replacing it, you eventually won’t have enough money to make a needed purchase.
Common symptoms of adrenal gland overload include fatigue, anxiety, irritability, sleep disruption, and digestive problems. If the stress continues, your adrenal glands will not be able to maintain the high levels of stress hormones your body needs to cope with the stress. As a result, you will enter into stage 2 of adrenal burnout.
Stage 2 — Fatigue
Some people are born with strong adrenal glands, which allows them to maintain high levels of stress for years without it affecting their health. However, if you are not one of these fortunate individuals, excess stress can quickly push you into stage 2 of adrenal burnout.
The transition between stages typically lasts between 6 and 18 months. During this time, the stress response of the adrenal glands is slowly compromised. If the ongoing stress you’ve been under ceases, it will allow the adrenal glands to recover, followed by your body. However, if the stress continues, it will ultimately lead to stage 3 or adrenal exhaustion—the point at which your adrenal glands can no longer sustain an adequate response to stress.
Stage 3 — Exhaustion
In stage 3 of adrenal burnout, the adrenal glands are no longer able to produce sufficient amounts of cortisol and DHEA when they are needed. As a result, it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to recover.
Without sufficient amounts of cortisol and DHEA, otherwise healthy people can experience a dramatic change in their health. The most common symptoms experienced at the start of stage 3 are chronic fatigue and low-level depression. This is because cortisol and DHEA help maintain a person’s emotional stability, mood, and energy levels. As these hormones levels continue to drop, brain function can also suffer, resulting in poor memory and mental confusion. Over time, these and other symptoms can begin to diminish one’s health and quality of life.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Some common symptoms that are often related to adrenal fatigue include:
- Inability to lose weight
- Cravings for sweets
- Decreased sex drive
- Poor memory
- Weakened immune response
- Recurrent infections
- Menstrual cramping
- Severe mood swings
- Hot flashes / night sweats
- Unexplained nervousness or irritability
- Increased neck, back or joint pain
- Muscle pain
If you’re an otherwise healthy person but find yourself experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, it could be due to the profound physiological changes that are occurring in your body as a result of adrenal fatigue. The good news is that it is possible to reverse the progression of your symptoms.
Whether you’re in the beginning or final stages of adrenal burnout, our comprehensive lab tests can help identify chronic degenerative processes long before they have a chance to develop into a pathological condition. For a complete health analysis, contact us today to schedule an appointment.